[3.12] Smokemantra's Wintertide Brand Occultist - Low Life 6k+ ES

Welcome to my Wintertide Brand Occultist guide!

I always thought the 'Brand playstyle' was interesting so when I saw the Brand changes of 3.11 and the addition of new Brand skills I really wanted to make a Brand build, of which I picked Wintertide because I had never played a Damage Over Time character before. This guide was made during 3.11 and therefore it will reflect my experiences during said patch.

This build is actually pretty budget, as the only "expensive" item required is a 6L Shavronne's Wrappings. There is also the option of doing it Life or ES based instead of Low Life but items and tree choices would of course change.



Pros and Cons
About the Build
Ascendancy & Pantheon
Gem Setup
Gear, Flasks and Jewels
Passive Tree and PoB

Pros and Cons of this build

+ Nice Map Clear and Bossing potential
+ Brand playstyle lets us run and avoid mechanics while the Brands do our damage
+ Pretty Tanky thanks to high ES and Block
- While possible in SSF, not good because of uniques required

About the Build
The idea of this character is to hang in close to mid-range from enemies. We will be making use of Curse auras, which will have a set Area of Effect, so if we get too far they won't have any effect on enemies, and these Curse auras increase our damage by a lot. The ideal scenario will be that we run into a pack, we put our Brands on the enemies and while they're affected by our auras, explode thanks to our Ascendancy bonuses. We will aim to regularly cast as many brands as we can have out and let them clear by jumping from one enemy to another as they die, making use of Brand Recall to reposition our Brands when necessary. We also will want to make sure we're using Flame Dash often so that we can have a high uptime on our Arcane Surge buff and also regularly casting Cold Snap so that we gain Frenzy Charges to increase our damage.

Important mechanics
Damave Over Time (DoT): This is a DoT build, which means any bonus to damage with Hits will not be useful for us. Any bonuses to DoT will be how we will scale up our damage. In specific, bonuses to "Damage Over Time Multiplier" (or the more specific Cold variant of this) will be highly desirable to acquire, with "increased Damage Over Time" being slightly less effective, although still highly useful. Particularly for our main skill, Wintertide Brand, modifications to Spell Damage and Cast Speed will also affect our DoT and Activation Frequency, which will result in higher damage as well.

Low Life (LL): This build makes use of "Low Life" modifiers, where we will be considered to be in a 'Low Life' state if we have 35% or less of our Life remaining. We can force a permanent state of LL by "Reserving" 65% or more of our total Life, which we achieve by using auras socketed in a Prism Guardian Shield. Since LL makes us vulnerable to Chaos damage, which naturally bypasses Energy Shield (ES), we also make use of the "Shavronne's Wrappings" Body Armour, which has the "Chaos Damage cannot bypass Energy Shield" modifier so that we don't instantly die when facing Chaos damage. With this, we can treat our Life as an extra resource pool and utilize and focus on ES as if it was our new main source of 'Life'. This allows us to use the Pain Attunement keystone passive for more damage as well, and since we will be heavily ES based we will also use the Wicked Ward keystone passive to improve our ES recharge.

Block: This build makes use of the Block mechanic as an extra defensive layer, which is essentially a chance to mitigate damage taken. Getting a lot of Block Chance is not too easy without focusing a lot on it, but we can get the Glancing Blows keystone passive, which doubles our Block Chance while reducing the damage reduction of blocked hits from 100% to 50%, which in the end is a good tradeoff for us.

Ascendancy, Bandits and Pantheon
For our Ascendancy:

Void Beacon -> Frigid Wake -> Profane Bloom -> Malediction

Taking a look at the other nodes, the only viable alternative is Vile Bastion, since we will be heavily ES based. This node is good for our survivability providing ES regeneration and Stun immunity (which we eventually get once we use our desired Amulet). If this is something you would like to have, you would have to replace Malediction, which would leave you unable to use a second Curse and would lower damage, especially when clearing. I'd recommend Malediction over it.

For the Bandits quest in act 2, our best option is to kill them all.

For the Pantheon I leave it to personal preference, as there's nothing that stands out too much. I recommend Lunaris for clearing and Solaris for bossing, and for the minor I would grab something like Abberath or Shakari depending on the circumstances.

TLDR version:

Wintertide Brand - Efficacy - Controlled Destruction - Swift Affliction - Hypothermia - Elemental Focus

Cold Snap (with Vaal version) - Bonechill - Efficacy - Hypothermia (if we have Hypo as an item mod, we can use Controlled Destruction instead, or add Vortex or Clarity in this slot)

Frostbite - Elemental Weakness - Blasphemy - Enlighten (Enlighten is optional)

Malevolence - Hatred - Zealotry (these don't need to be linked)

Tempest Shield - Orb of Storms - Frost Bomb (these don't need to be linked since these will go in a "Trigger" Wand, details below)

Discipline (with Vaal version)

Flame Dash - Arcane Surge (remember to keep Arcane Surge low level (5-6) so that every use of Flame Dash procs it)

Brand Recall (very nice to have to reposition our Brands)

Clarity (nice to have if we have a spare socket and some mana to reserve, and what's good is that we can kinda choose how much mana we want it to reserve)

Wintertide Brand: The main skill of our build. Casting this will create a Brand on the ground that will attach to nearby enemies. While it's attached, it will chill them and deal Damage Over Time (DoT) in set intervals, gaining more damage with more activations. Once the Brand is removed, an AoE debuff dealing damage and chilling enemies will be released.

Auras: Our Auras will be separated bewteen those that will reserve out Life and those that will reserve our Mana.

The ones that will Reserve Life are Malevolence, Hatred and Zealotry. These three auras are all about increasing our damage. We will aim to use them by reserving Life, which we will achieve putting them in a Prism Guardian Shield, which will reduce the amount of the reservation (from 50% per aura to only 29% for a total of 87% reservation) and cause them to reserve Life instead of Mana, which is what will leave us on a permanent state of Low Life.

The ones that will Reserve Mana are Discipline and Clarity. Of these two, Discipline will be very important, since we want to aim for the highest amount of ES possible. Clarity will be an extra skill that will help us with mana sustain but it's skippable if we don't have enough sockets or enough mana to cast it. Alternatively, we can also use it with a low level, since the amount of mana it reserves gets higher with gem levels.

Curses: We will also aim for a double Curse setup that will consist of Frostbite and Elemental Weakness. Since self casting curses would considerably slow us down in the long run, we will couple these auras with the Blasphemy Support gem, which will turn these curses into permanent auras that will now reserve some of our Mana, but they will inflict curses on any nearby enemies, which will synergize very well with our Void Beacon ascendancy node. It's also important to upgrade Blasphemy to its Awakened version, since it will lower the amount of Reserved mana and will strengthen our Curses. We can couple this setup with an Enlighten gem to further reduce the amount of mana reserved.

The use of this particular double curse setup will eventually result in nearby enemies having over -100% Cold Resistance, which will scale with Curse Effect modifiers. This will greatly boost our damage.

Cold Snap: This skill will create a zone in the ground that will deal DoT and will Chill, as well as give us Frenzy Charges if enemies die while inside the zone, which will boost our Cast Speed and damage.

Triggered Skills: These skills will be triggering without us needing to focus on casting them, which is great. Tempest Shield will give us Block Chance and an extra Hit skill, which will proc evey time we block and will apply Elemental Equilibrium and if it crits, it will also apply Elemental Overload. Orb of Storms will be a similar case. Frost Bomb will apply Cold Exposure to the enemies it hits, which will amplify our damage further.

Mobility: We will use Flame Dash because we will ideally be stacking a nice amount of Cast Speed, which will benefit Flame Dash. This skill also comes with 3 charges, so it's nice to have as a standalone gem. We will be coupling this with Arcane Surge so that we can get Arcane Surge to proc on every cast of Flame Dash for a good uptime.

Some leveling tips regarding gems, particularly on the first acts
Wintertide Brand is not available until level 12 and we don't have access to any of our desired support gems for it until level 18, therefore I recommend using another skill until we acquire said support gems. My recommended skill is Freezing Pulse, which is a staple leveling skill. It should linked to a low level Arcane Surge and Added Cold if possible. Early on we also want to pick up relevant gems for our build, such as Orb of Storms and Frost Bomb, which are available very early on and are quite efficient as leveling skills, these can also be supported with Increased Crit Strikes to proc Elemental Overload easier early on. Orb of Storms will be very good to proc Elemental Equilibrium as well. We also grab Frostblink until we can access Flame Dash.

Once in Act 2 we can get Brand Recall, Tempest Shield and Cold Snap. Tempest Shield will not be very useful at this stage (we might not even have a Shield yet) but the other 2 can be handy. Later on near level 18 we will have access to Controlled Destruction and Elemental Focus, and once we have them we will start using them alongside Wintertide Brand as our main source of damage. In case we have a 4-Link, we can also use Faster Casting. At this point we should already have the Runebinder keystone passive (or at least be close to it) so by now we can have up to 3 brands attached to an opponent, which will help us kill bosses.

Once in Act 3 we can get our Curse and Aura gems. We will only be able to use one Curse and one big Aura at this point, of which Frostbite and Malevolence will be our best choices. It's also possible to use smaller auras like Discipline and Clarity, but be careful with your mana pool management. Frostbite will be used as a self cast Curse until much later in the game.

In act 4 we will have access to the rest of the support gems we need for Wintertide Brand. Efficacy will be particularly important, because it also increases the duration of our Brands.

Example flask setup will be added as I finish gearing.
To start this section, there are some ailments that we can counter through Flask mods, and of those, the most important ones are Bleeding and Curses, therefore we want to have one Flask with "Staunching" and one with "Warding".

For specific Flasks, we will always have a Quicksilver Flask so that we can run fast. We also want to have a Rumi's Concoction, which will give us over 20% Physical Damage Reduction and a lot of Block Chance (which will be doubled by Glancing Blows). Other than that, the rest of the Flask setup can change depending on personal preference. I do recommend using a Quartz Flask for the extra chance to Dodge and the useful Phasing mod, since we will often be quite close to mobs so that our Curses affect them.

Some suggestions to fill the remaining 2 Flask slots:

- Sulphur
- Basalt
- Silver
- Cinderswallow Urn

Some of Current Gear in 3.11:
These are the items I was wearing when I killed A8 Sirus (I did it at level 89 with only 1 Cluster which was a Brand type, gems were level 18-19 without quality):
These will of course vary depending on the time we buy items, but they can still serve as a reference. These are based on the prices I paid for the items myself.

- Shavronne's Wrappings (already 6-Linked) = 2.5ex
- Intuitive Leap 33c
- Thread of Hope 25c (very large radius, res roll close to -10)
- Presence of Chayula 10c (2c Eye of Chayula and 8c Blessing of Chayula, there was an extra cost of 2c per Tempering Catalyst, for a total of 40-50c)
- Rumi's Concoction 10c
- Hubris Circlet base with Shaper influence 7c (rest of crafts were self made but as you can see it's not an impressive item so the price should not be too high for a similar one)
- Wand cost me 5c, it's a very low tier base and it only really has t2 Cold DoT and t1 Cast Speed, plus the open suffix for the Trigger Craft
- Prism Guardian was self made, I found one with a +2 Aura gem levels implicit but I sold it so I'm using this one instead, ideally we want a nice corrupt or even a non-corrupted, anyway this could be as cheap as 10c
- Gloves and Boots were self-found, nothing big here, they are there for ES and resists
- Rest of Jewellery were all self-found too but they're not so impressive either, same as above I pretty much only use them for ES and resists
- Extra Jewels are a Brand Cluster with Holy Conquest and Brand Loyalty, an ES cluster with Energy From Naught, one Energy From Within, one Threah of Hope (very large radius) and one Intuitive Leap, plus one rare Cobalt

To be able to use this build, we want at least 85 Strength (to be able to use the Prism Guardian Shield) and at least 111 Dexterity (to be able to use our Dex gems like Hypothermia and Swift Affliction, if we take Awakened Swift Affliction we will need 126 Dex). This is an important requirement to meet, so don't be afraid of taking the +30 Attribute nodes in the Passive Tree if you are in need of Attributes (like Might/Agility or even Practical Application, which can sometimes be better to get).

This build is made around the use of 3 core items: Shavronne's Wrappings, Prism Guardian and Presence of Chayula, which are staples in Low Life builds. While the latter two are not particularly costly items, the former is usually a somewhat rare and expensive piece of gear. Fortunately, it can be target farmed through Divination Cards, particularly "The Offering", which specifically gives us Shavronne's Wrappings as a reward. Besides that one, it can also be acquired with cards like "The Aesthete"/"The Body".

Among other unique items, some that stand out are:

-Rumi's Concoction, which will give us a lot of Block Chance and Physical Damage Reduction.
-Bated Breath, which will be a great low-budget Belt alternative for ES. This Belt should eventually be replaced in an endgame setup for a well-crafted Crystal Belt.
-Intuitive Leap, which will be used to save passive points and still get some useful nodes. It should be placed in the Jewel Socket right next to Instability in the Passive Tree. This location is also very good for a Large radius Thread of Hope so you can choose whichever you prefer.
-Thread of Hope, which is very important for us to get Glancing Blows without wasting too many passive points. For that purpose we will need one that has a Very Large radius. As I mentioned, a Large radius one can also be relevant for us.
-Energy From Within, which converts increases to % maximum Life in its radius into increases to % ES, which is especially good once we have Shavronne's Wrappings since by then we don't need to scale Life anymore.

Just equipping our Core unique items and emptying the rest of item slots, plus Cluster Jewels and the Passive Tree we can reach 5k ES quite easily, and since we will have over 200% increased maximum ES, we have a very real potential to reach super high values as long as most if not all of our Rare items have ES.

The Amulet we will aim to get is Presence of Chayula. It will give us a bunch of stuff we need, such as Attributes, Stun immunity and Chaos Resistance. This Amulet also converts 20% of our maximum Life into ES, which is amazing for our build since we only treat Life as a Resource to spend, and this Amulet can potentially give us 1k ES by itself. I recommend using Tempering Catalysts on it and reaching 20% quality, because the Conversion mod is a Defence mod, and therefore it will be amplified from 20% to up to 24% by the Tempering Catalysts, which means we will have even more ES.

This Amulet can be acquired by purchasing from other players but it can't be dropped as is. It is actually the upgraded form of the "Eye of Chayula" Amulet, which can drop anywhere in the game. If you have an uncorrupted Eye of Chayula, to upgrade it you need to use a Blessing of Chayula on it.

Annoint: The strongest annoint available will be Tranquility. This is a node that is not on the regular Passive Tree, however, it gives: 5% increased maximum ES and the Transfiguration of Soul modifier, which means that increases or reductions to maximum ES also become increases or reductions to Spell Damage at 30% of their value. For example, this means that if we have 200% increased maximum ES, this increase towards ES will also grant us 60% increased Spell Damage. Therefore, every time we get ES we will both become tankier and increase our damage.

Tranquility is a pretty costly annoint though, since it asks for 2x Golden Oils and 1x Azure Oil. It is preferrable to not utilize this annoint until we have our Presence of Chayula Amulet. Before this annoint, cheaper alternatives I would suggest are:

- Divine Judgment (cheap)
- Growth and Decay (slightly costly, 1x Golden)
- Command of Steel (cheap, very good on any character with high Block chance)

Ideally we will want to have a well rolled Rare Helmet. Some mods that stand out are the Hypothermia mod from Shaper influence and the "nearby enemies have -9% Cold Res" from Redeemer (kind of also present in Shaper influence with reduced effect but affecting all elements instead of just Cold).

I want to mention Crown of the Inward Eye as well, since it's a useful and actually pretty cheap (plus even rather easy to self-find) alternative that will give us a bunch of things we want: base ES, increased Life, Mana and Global ES and also the Transfiguration of Mind and of Soul mods, which will improve our damage in an amount equal to 30% of our increases to maximum Mana and ES respectively. Using this unique Helmet would allow us to skip or put on hold our annointing of Tranquility (pretty much the whole purpose of this annoint is gaining Transfiguration of Soul).

Ideally we want to have a Wand with the following affixes:

- Spell Damage/Cold Damage (Prefix)
- Cold DoT Multiplier (Prefix)
- +1 Level to all Spell Gems (or to all Cold - this affix can be skipped on a budget)
- Cast Speed
- DoT Multiplier (Suffix, also skippable on a budget since it's hard to target craft)

The best Weapon Enchant for us is the Elemental Damage one.

We want our Wand to have an open Suffix so that we can craft "Trigger a Socketed Spell when you use a Skill", this will make it so that whenever we use a Skill, our previously mentioned abilities will be cast without us needing to worry about doing it.
Any item slots not mentioned (except for the weapon) should be filled by Rare items that would ideally have Resistances and ES mods, as well as other things we find useful.

Regarding regular Jewels, the best we can get is a Cobalt Jewel with %ES and % Cold DoT, alongside mods like Spell Damage and Cast Speed.
Cluster Jewels can be skipped, but having the right ones is very beneficial. Our point usage is pretty tight, so if we can't fit an "optimal" Cluster setup (by that I mean 1 Large, 2 Mediums and 2 Smalls) we will have to skip the Large.
Large Cluster
While this is skippable, for this slot we would want to aim for a Cold Cluster. Nodes to get in this one could be Blast Freeze, Deep Chill, Blizzard Caller, Vengeful Commander or if we lack resistance Prismatic Heart.

Medium Clusters
There are 3 useful Mediums for us, and those are Brand, Cold DoT and Curse clusters.

Nodes to look for in Curse clusters:

- Blizzard Caller
- Forbidden Words
- Master of Fear

Nodes to look for in Brand clusters:

- Holy Conquest (this imo has priority over the other 2)
- Grand Design
- Brand Loyalty

Nodes to look for in Cold DoT clusters:

- Brush with Death (damage + nice sustain when mapping)
- Deep Chill (highest damage)
- Potentially also Blast Freeze or Vile Reinvigoration

Small Clusters
The Small Cluster that is the best for us is an ES one with the "Energy From Naught" notable, depending on our Tree and Gear, this notable alone can give us 400+ ES, which is a lot.

For Mapping
When we start Mapping, we want to aim to have this setup:

- 3.5k and above eHP (Life + ES)
- Capped Elemental Resistances
- Flask Setup ready (+ try to get Rumi's and Bated Breath when possible)

Map mods to be wary of are:

- Elemental Reflect (will get us killed instantly)
- Less or No Regen/ES recovery (annoying for survivability)
- Cursed by Temporal Chains/other curses (this is countered by our Warding flask)
- Hexproof (only relevant before we have all our Ascendancy nodes, since by then we will be able to curse Hexproof enemies)

Passive Tree and PoB
- Leveling Trees + Tree for Level 66-68, this is start of maps/white maps without having our key unique items yet: https://pastebin.com/pbuWszYx

- Level 74, upgrades: Rumi's Flask, Thread of Hope and Intuitive Leap Jewels, Bated Breath: https://pastebin.com/pbXwA5Bh

- Level 75, this should be used if we have Shavronne's Wrappings. Other upgrades include Prism Guardian, Presence of Chayula and Energy From Within (these mentioned uniques are kind of a package deal with Shavs): https://pastebin.com/v2QDLSer

- Level 93, this includes suggested Cluster setups (2x Medium+Small) https://pastebin.com/tVF9qj5R

There are some other nodes in the tree that are not allocated but that are nearby and that can be useful if we decide do make any changes. The ones that stand out are:

- Zealot's Oath
- Arcane Vision (if visibility is an issue due to being a Low Life character)
- The Brand Duration nodes leading up to Brand Equity
- Utmost Intellect
- Potency of Will
- Practical Application (for attributes)
- Faith and Steel
- Blast Radius (particularly if we use Intuitive Leap)

If you lack points or need some extra, I could advise not pathing to Arcane Guarding, the loss will not be too big and we will gain 6 points to use elsewhere.
Last edited by Smokemantra on Sep 17, 2020, 10:04:11 AM
Last bumped on Sep 30, 2020, 10:25:48 AM
I've started a new char earlier today to try out this Wintertide skill as well. While it's just act 8 for me atm, I've noticed couple of problems with your skill setup. Freezing from Vaal Cold Snap is useful, plus Frenzy charges help a bit with damage, but Vortex is superior for me due to instacast and at least double DoT. Brand Recall, being an instacast as well, allows to pre-cast several brands prior to approaching a room or a large pack. While playing w/o it is possible, constant re-cast of brands while holding reasonable pace is rather difficult. Don't know if you're going to incorporate Glancing Blow, but if not, why choosing Tempest Shield? Is it to proc EE? Coz' otherwise +3% (spell)block is prolly a wasted gem slot...
Since my lvl is rather low, I'm running CwDT with Frost Bomb, the Orb and Blind support, but thinking of switching the Orb and Blind for Ball Lightning and GMP for more reliable EE/EO proc.

Anyway, Wintertide is quite cool skill, and gameplay is different from other brands or Vortex/Frostbolt. Hope you'll finish your guide soon ;)
Karchuk wrote:
I've started a new char earlier today to try out this Wintertide skill as well. While it's just act 8 for me atm, I've noticed couple of problems with your skill setup. Freezing from Vaal Cold Snap is useful, plus Frenzy charges help a bit with damage, but Vortex is superior for me due to instacast and at least double DoT. Brand Recall, being an instacast as well, allows to pre-cast several brands prior to approaching a room or a large pack. While playing w/o it is possible, constant re-cast of brands while holding reasonable pace is rather difficult. Don't know if you're going to incorporate Glancing Blow, but if not, why choosing Tempest Shield? Is it to proc EE? Coz' otherwise +3% (spell)block is prolly a wasted gem slot...
Since my lvl is rather low, I'm running CwDT with Frost Bomb, the Orb and Blind support, but thinking of switching the Orb and Blind for Ball Lightning and GMP for more reliable EE/EO proc.

Anyway, Wintertide is quite cool skill, and gameplay is different from other brands or Vortex/Frostbolt. Hope you'll finish your guide soon ;)

Thanks for the input!

I am still thinking about the Cold Snap setup. My original idea was aiming for a Shaper Helmet with a Hypothermia link to put both Cold Snap and Vortex and have them like a dual 4-link, but I have been testing the alternatives. Cold Snap has the extra Vaal skill, it gives Frenzy Charges and it not only hits, which can proc EO, but it also deals DoT. I did use Vortex over it during the leveling process and just had it on left click to have one less thing to actively cast but I never felt like it was anything too amazing, which is why I started trying Cold Snap.

I do agree on Brand Recall, it's a handy tool to reposition the Brands. I've changed my wording on this part to better reflect my thoughts.

I do incorporate Glancing Blows. This is the reason for Tempest Shield, having extra Block and an extra lightning hit skill that can help proc EE and EO more consistently.
Last edited by Smokemantra on Aug 5, 2020, 9:04:39 AM
Sorry for the probably noobish question, but:

Wintertide Brand - Efficacy - Controlled Destruction - Swift Affliction - Hypothermia - Elemental Focus

How does Elemental Focus allow the skill to still freeze and chill? Aren't those Elemental Ailments?

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